Monday, September 25, 2023

Sandwich Wars: Is there really a chicken shortage?

By David B. Strickland, Poultry Times editor,

Must read

GAINESVILLE, Ga. — There has been some speculation over whether the nation is truly facing a “chicken shortage.” Quick-service restaurants have noted on social media and elsewhere that they are low on supply of some their new products. And the “chicken sandwich wars” of the past couple of years are showing no signs of slowing down, which is placing a demand on these products and the chicken required to produce them.

But is there really a shortage? “Calling it a ‘chicken shortage’ is a bit of a stretch,” said Tom Super, senior vice president of communications with the National Chicken Council, “…very tight supply, but short of a shortage.” Several factors this year have impacted chicken production. Restaurants are beginning to come back to regular schedules post-pandemic and strong winter storms in major poultry producing regions have slowed the supplies.

In citing USDA numbers, Super said that broilers produced, “was down 4 percent in the first quarter of 2021 and pounds produced down 3 percent. But production began picking back up in the beginning of April and we’ve seen an increase in production over the past month. He added: “According to the same data, broilers produced the week ending April 10 were up 4 percent versus a year ago; the week ending April 17 up 9 percent, the week ending April 24 up 7 percent and the week ending May 1 up 2 percent.”

So, yes, “supply is somewhat tight, but the sky certainly isn’t falling,” he said. The 2021 production for broilers is estimated by the USDA’s Economic Research Service at 44.78 billion pounds, which is almost the same as for 2020. In looking at the unprecedented 2020, Super also said that, “In terms of the pandemic and chicken production according to the USDA, the total number of birds produced in 2020 versus 2019 was 9.35 billion versus 9.34 billion, respectively. So, virtually the same.”

Demand for fried chicken and chicken sandwiches also remained during last year’s COVID-19 slowdown. The chicken segment performed well given the circumstances. Market research firm TOP Worldwide LLC shared in its Fried Chicken Report that “Fried chicken restaurants have coped with the pandemic better than other fast-food outlets. While visits to fast-food restaurants are down 23 percent, fried chicken has only seen a 6 percent reduction, outperforming burger chains which have experienced a downturn of 15 percent.”


A late winter punch of a storm that impacted Texas and several poultry producing states also had an impact on supplies of poultry products. Disruptions were noted in Texas to the food and water supplies.

“The winter storms and the system failure of the (electrical power) grid had a profound impact on our farmers, ranchers and agricultural workers,” said Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller in a statement.

Super said, “Chicken producers are doing everything they can to overcome the devastating impact of Mother Nature when she inflicted the once in a lifetime winter storm on Texas and nearby states — major chicken producing regions. It will take time and effort to eventually replace the impacted hatchery supply flocks in that region, but supply should catch back up to demand soon.”



The trend of the past couple of years of quick-service restaurants doing “battle” over their new chicken sandwiches to see who can gain popularity dominance is still ongoing.

Recently, brands that have had chicken sandwich offerings are bringing new products into the foray of the chicken sandwich war. McDonald’s has premiered a new chicken sandwich with a regular and spicy option. KFC is now offering a new fried chicken sandwich. Both companies have said these new products are performing well.

But with these new products and long-standing products still in demand, this equals a lot of chicken that is needed to keep up the pace. “The ‘chicken sandwich wars’ have definitely led to an increase in demand for breast meat,” said Super. “And with restaurants opening back up as restrictions begin to lift, chicken processors have had to adjust their product lines and supply chains to get back to a more ‘normal’ retail versus foodservice mix. The two most in demand cuts are boneless/skinless breasts and wings.”


The ERS agrees that the demand for wings and boneless/skinless breasts are very strong this year, stemming from basic supply and demand. “The continued strengthening of wing prices can be attributed to generally tight supplies (stemming from labor challenges), as well as to strong domestic demand for wings,” ERS said in its recent “Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook Report.”

The report went on to say: “After depressed boneless/skinless breast prices for much of the last few years, wholesale boneless/skinless breast prices strengthened significantly in the first quarter (of 2021), in part due to increasing demand, particularly as a result of the ongoing chicken sandwich wars.”

Since the release of its annual chicken wing report during Super Bowl week, the National Chicken Council claimed that the food item has shown to be “pandemic proof.” “If you think about it, restaurants like wing joints and pizza places were built around takeout and delivery, so they didn’t have to change their business model that much during the pandemic,” Super said. “Wings travel well and hold up during delivery conditions. Plus, they aligned with consumer desire for comfort food during the pandemic…wings will remain in the game.”

He stressed that the industry is working to continue to meet the demands of customers not just for wings but for all chicken products. “Each chicken only has two wings and producers don’t raise chickens just for the wings,” said Super, “they have to sell all of the other parts as well. The industry produces tens of billions of wings annually and producers are working diligently to meet the upsurge in consumer demand by adding millions more.”

He goes on to say, “As chicken production begins to resume back to a more normal pace of output in the coming months and there is a better supply/demand ratio, the market tightness should ease.”

More articles

Latest article